Black History Month is an opportunity to recognize Afro-Latinxs making an impact and amplifying Afro-Latinidad history and stories. In addition to highlighting Black changemakers in various industries, it’s also important to recognize that storytelling wouldn’t be what it is without the work of Black writers and thinkers, yet they are constantly underrepresented in the mainstream publishing industry today. It’s more important than ever to diversify your TBR list with Black authors this month and every month. This is by no means an exhaustive list but is a good starting place as you curate your reading list this month, which includes novels, short stories, and memoirs. Read on to learn more about 13 books by Afro-Latinx authors that you should read in celebration of Black History Month.
Halsey Street by Naima Coster
Halsey Street is an award-winning novel by Dominican American writer Naima Coster that follows Penelope Grand, a failed artist from Pittsburgh who moves back to Brooklyn to take care of her sick father. Only her neighborhood because of gentrification, and even her mother has left this city and abandoned their family for her home in the Dominican Republic. When Penelope receives an apologetic postcard from her mother, her old wounds and secrets are brought to the surface again just as she begins to embark on her own journey of growth and independence. Touching on themes of family, loss, and renewal, this is a moving mother-daughter story told from the perspectives of two complex but empathetic women.
Malcriada & Other Stories by Lorraine Avila
Malcriada & Other Stories by Dominican American writer Lorraine Avila is the author’s debut collection of short stories that spans locations including the Caribbean Sea, the Dominican Republic, Puerto Rico, and New York City. Throughout 16 stories and original illustrations, readers will follow a former cacao farmer, immigrants, best friends, a twelve-year-old girl, preteen boys, female cousins, a woman suffering from alcoholism, and more following their own journeys of resilience, survival, coming of age, healing, trauma, and catharsis. Avila’s latest novel, The Making of Yolanda La Bruja, will be released in April 2023.
Neruda on the Park by Cleyvis Natera
Neruda on the Park by Dominican American writer Cleyvis Natera follows the Guerrero family who has lived in the (fictional) Dominican neighborhood of Nothar Park for 20 years in New York City. When a neighboring building is set to be demolished to make way for luxury condos, it upends the lives of a family and an entire community feeling the effects of gentrification. There’s Eusebia, an elderly resident who attempts to stop construction with devious and dangerous schemes, and her daughter Luz who begins a forbidden and secret romance with a developer at the construction company to her mother’s horror. Not to mention Eusebia’s husband who is secretly designing their new home in the Dominican Republic despite knowing her reluctance to go back. This is a powerful exploration of intergenerational trauma, the effects of gentrification, and the complicated immigrant experience.
Brother, Sister, Mother, Explorer by Jamie Figueroa
Brother, Sister, Mother, Explorer by Afro-Taíno author Jamie Figueroa is her debut novel, following Rufina and Rafa, two siblings who, after their mother passes, spend a weekend together in their childhood home in the tourist town of Ciudad de Tres Hermanas. When Rufina realizes that her brother is heading toward a dark place, she attempts to pull him out by devising a bet: if they can raise enough money from performing for tourists to buy a plane ticket, then Rafa must leave. If not, she will accept his plan, no matter how much she may dislike it. But it becomes clear that it won’t be that straightforward, thanks to mysterious, unexplainable hauntings that begin to take place in their home from ghostly and angelic beings.
A Woman of Endurance by Dahlma Llanos-Figueroa
A Woman of Endurance by Puerto Rican author Dahlma Llanos-Figueroa shines a light on the invisible, unspoken history of the Puerto Rican Atlantic Slave Trade, told through the eyes of Pola. Pola is an African woman who is captured and used as a breeder to bear more slaves, separating her from her babies immediately after their birth. Growing angry and embittered, she still carries her compassion, empathy, and love in its many forms as she seeks healing, survival, and reclamation of her own humanity, even in the face of the worst kind of brutality.
City of God by Paulo Lins
City of God by Paolo Lins takes place in Cidade de Deus, Rio de Janeiro, one of Brazil’s most infamous slums where narcotics, violence, gang life, poverty, money, and even love and samba are in large supply. Told from the perspective of a young man who wants to outrun his own identity and become a photographer, this is a harrowing, powerful story based on the author’s real-life experiences growing up in the city. It inspired a hit film adaptation of the same name which received critical acclaim worldwide.
Down These Mean Streets by Piri Thomas
Down These Mean Streets by Piri Thomas is a memoir recounting the author’s coming-of-age experience in Spanish Harlem as the dark-skinned son of a Puerto Rican family determined to ignore and even decimate its African roots. From El Barrio to Sing Sing, Thomas embarks on a journey of drugs, street fighting, armed robbery, and prison time for shooting a cop, culminating in a period of self-love, faith, and confidence. Soon after its publication in 1967, the book became a modern classic and continues to resonate with readers today.
Changó, el gran putas / Changó, the Biggest Badass by Manuel Zapata Olivella
Changó, el gran putas by Colombian author Manuel Zapata Olivella, known as Changó, the Biggest Badass in the English edition, is an epic novel covering four hundred years of African American history in verse and prose. Changó, the African god of fire, war, and thunder, challenges the people (the muntu in the Bantu langauge) to liberate themselves and all of humanity in the face of common suffering, all while he inhabits the personas of various historical figures throughout place and time. Nowhere and no one is spared, including Brazil, New England, and the Caribbean center of the slave trade, and Benkos Biojo, Henri Christophe, Simón Bolívar, José María Morelos, the Aleijadinho, Marcus Garvey, and Malcolm X. Originally published in 1983, the book is widely considered to be Olivella’s masterpiece and a staple of Latin American literature in the tracing of the region’s African origins.
Stories of Gabriel by Esther Alix
Stories of Gabriel by Dominican American Esther Alix is her debut novel that follows the lives of a tightly-knit community of neighbors in South Bronx in the mid-90s after the loss of a baby. Throughout the novel, the death ripples across all the corners of the neighborhood, from the parents to their families, their friends to the others on the block, sparking memories, promises, and quests. Infused with vibrant Caribbean culture, this is a love story unlike any other you’ve ever known.
Show and Prove by Sofia Quintero
Show and Prove by Puerto Rican and Dominican American author Sofia Quintero takes place in the summer of 1983 in the South Bronx, an era of hip-hop, Reaganomics, a war abroad, and the epidemics of crack and AIDS. The story focuses on Raymond “Smiles” King, who was passed over for assistant crew chief at his summer camp and has instigated a summer-long rivalry with Cookie Camacho, and Guillermo “Nike” Vega, who has high hopes for his romantic chances with Sara, a new camp counselor, and a breakdancing competition downtown. The summer of 1983 will prove crucial for the two friends and their future together, which has been jeopardized by Smiles getting a scholarship to attend a private school. Touching on themes of music, urban city life, and racism, this story has become a classic work of literature in the Latinx diaspora.
Chulito by Charles Rice-Gonzalez
Chulito by Puerto Rican author Charles Rice-González is a queer coming-of-age story set in South Bronx that follows Chulito, a young Latino who loves hip-hop and the neighbors on his block, from the local bodega owner to the family who owns the Chinese restaurant, his family to his friends. Everything changes during puberty when everyone starts calling Carlos, Chulito’s best friend, a certain slur to demean his sexuality. Quickly, Chulito distances himself, buries his true feelings, and finds a new best friend in Kamikaze, a drug dealer. But when Carlos comes back from his first year at college and shares a secret kiss with Chulito, Chulito’s world and his understanding of machismo, life, and love are flipped completely upside down.
Black Cuban, Black American: A Memoir by Evelio Grillo
Black Cuban, Black American by Cuban American author Evelio Grillo is a memoir that recounts his experiences growing up in Ybor City in Tampa, Florida, which was once a factory town inhabited by cigarmakers from Cuba, Spain, and Italy. As the son of a Black Cuban family, he explores the complexities of his life in an early 20th-century society that was dictated by racial, class, and linguistic identities: Spanish or English, white or Black, immigrant or native-born, wealthy or poor—all while everyone traveled using horse-and-buggy. From his childhood in Ybor to adulthood during the Depression and as a soldier during WWII, he documents his assimilation into Black American society following alienation from his Latinx community, offering important insight into colorism, racism, and erasure of Black Latin American history.
Negras: Stories of Puerto Rican Slave Women by Yolanda Arroyo Pizarro
Negras by Puerto Rican author Yolanda Arroyo Pizarro tells previously untold stories of slave women in Puerto Rico, following a legacy of individual and group escapes, insurrections, revolts, rebellions, and revolutions by Black women all over the globe. In destroying slavery and the constraints of their freedom, Pizarro documents their triumphs and struggles as they fought against the social order, even at the cost of their own lives.